Circle Opinion

Data catalogs: are they important and do I need one?

Miguel Cardoso

In the age of big data and self-service analytics, data catalogs have become the standard for metadata management, helping analysts and other users find the information they need and get the visibility required for good data governance. But what is a data catalog, how do you know if your business needs one and crucially – how do you go about implementing a successful data catalog?

What is data catalog?

A data catalog is a collection of metadata, combined with data management and search tools. It maintains an inventory of data assets through the discovery, description and organisation of datasets. Through providing context to the relevant user (be that an analyst, data scientist or any other key stakeholder), they are able to find and understand datasets in order to extract business value.

A good data catalog should act as a single version of the truth through unification of all sources of metadata which can be disseminated to the right people at the right time, with the right permissions in place – making it both collaborative, compliant and secure. When implemented correctly, a data catalog will provide you with a clear understanding of your datasets in order to unlock the value you in your data and improve business intelligence and insight.

How do I know if my business needs a data catalog?

If your business is getting serious about a data-driven strategy, you’re going to need a data catalog.

The drive to implement a data-driven strategy is usually born from a company’s desire to transform the way they do business through use of data analysis and interpretation to make more effective and informed decisions.

The natural first stage of this strategy is to identify, combine and manage multiple sources of data. It’s not unusual for a company’s data to be siloed across multiple systems and sources such as data warehouses, data lakes, legacy systems and cloud-based repositories. Bringing these sources together into a single version of the truth helps solve both the challenge to the user of seeing the full picture, as well as the data governance issue that fragmented data presents.

If you’re looking for your users to gain effective and meaningful insights from the data held across your organisation, an optimal way to achieve this is by using a data catalog.

A data catalog can help organisations who are struggling with manually identifying data assets that deliver value as well as improving data efficiency, creating more context around your data and reducing the risk of errors in your data.

But by far the biggest benefit we see in companies with a data catalog is the impact on self-service analytics. With a continued increase in the number of stakeholders across an organisation that use analytics to support their activities and decision making, it becomes critical for data to be transparent and accurate, as well as accessible at the point of need, without the admin required to simply find and understand the data.

Through use of a data catalog, business and data analysts can search and find the data immediately, with access to all of the relevant datasets, helping them to evaluate and make informed choices. Quality of analysis is then improved by users spending sufficient time on the analysis over the admin of data preparation.

Our experience

Through CACI’s work with one of the world’s leading global financial services organisations, our team have deployed an enterprise data catalog that allows full visibility of all streams of data. This has supported improvement of data quality, as well as ensuring GDPR compliance.

By being able to see the full lineage of the data – where it has come from, where it is going and who will have visibility to what datasets, this institution is empowered to implement a level of data governance that can only truly be achieved through cataloguing to the most granular detail.

Any changes to the data are immediately highlighted so that appropriate action can be taken, or it can be used for future insight.

If you are looking for a data catalog, but aren’t sure on where to get started, why not speak to one of our team who can guide you through the steps of the process.

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Miguel Cardoso